Tue. Dec 7th, 2021

If you’ve been to a supermarket recently, you’ve probably noticed that the price of strawberries has been pretty inconsistent.

Just a month ago, they sold a package for $ 1, and now they’re back at $ 3.50 or even $ 5 depending on what part of the country you are in.

What in the world is going on?

Every year, when the weather warms up, the area that produces Australia’s strawberries shifts to farms in cooler climates, such as Victoria and Tasmania.

Right now, the season is between the two points.

In Western Australia, the majority of the state’s strawberry crop in major growth areas near Perth is nearing completion.

Bullsbrook breeder and Strawberry Growers Association of WA spokesman Jamie Michael said market gaps had boosted prices, giving the industry a much-needed end to seasonal boost.

“Things are improving a little bit, but it’s been a very common season for the industry,” he said.

“It’s probably the biggest driver.”

A man looks at strawberries growing under plastic
Jamie Michael says the industry needs continued support from shoppers.(ABC News: Hugh Sando)

Michael said next season’s strawberry crop in WA would again be about 25 percent below average, as growers were still concerned about market access and labor shortages.

“I think psychologically it’s really important that growers can see some light at the end of the tunnel coming out of this season, otherwise the thought looking forward to next year would be quite awful,” he said.

“So the timing is pretty good, even just for everyone’s mental health.”

How did prices get so low in the first place?

The fall in prices in late winter was partly caused by the pandemic.

The Victorian and NSW lockdown closed restaurants, cafes and bakeries and deprived supermarkets of foot traffic.

This combined with a good growing season in the winter growing regions of Queensland and WA meant that there was plenty of winter fruit available and no one could buy it.

A dollar sign and strawberries in the punnets.
Strawberries sell for only $ 1 a pound on the Sunshine Coast.(ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols)

While it was great for shoppers, it was bad news for growers.

It got so bad that some were forced to kill plants a month early.

The practice of spraying crops usually occurs only at the end of the growing season and prevents the spread of disease from rotting fruit.

Change of season

Tasmanian breeder Roly Mackinnon is three weeks away from the start of the harvest and is convinced that the price will not fall to the levels seen earlier in the year.

“There are times of the year when the cost of production is more than we get paid. It happens most years, but not for a long period of time.”

A man with orange hair and a woman with glasses stand in a plastic tunnel, they are surrounded by plants
Mountford Berries leaders Roly and Jemma Mackinnon are convinced they are not facing the same problems as farmers in northern Australia. (ABC Rural: Luke Radford )

He said no matter what happens to the price they will continue to reap.

“We have to pick every other day … we pick it, we put it in a punnette and we send it to the market,” Mackinnon said.

“There’s nothing we can really do about it. We just want to keep producing, and cross our fingers that consumers will come back to the supermarket and start buying some strawberries.

“At the end of the day, we just have to keep reaping and riding out the hard times if they arise.”

A row of green plants sits on a hydroponic table that stretches in the distance, it sits in a plastic tunnel.
Southern Australia’s berry harvest comes online after the northern season ends. (ABC Rural: Luke Radford )

What about the supermarkets?

Both major supermarket chains are confident that demand will increase as summer begins.

In a statement, Coles said it expected a large increase in demand for fruit.

“In the coming weeks, we will see more volume from our Victorian growers, with Tasmanian growers seeing their highest production around Christmas,” it said.

“We work closely with our growers to ensure we can continue to support them during the growing season and provide enough fruit to meet customer demand.”

Woolworths has repeated that feeling.

“Over the next few weeks, there will be a reduced supply of strawberries across the market as the growing season in the southern states increases – which is common for this time of year.

“We expect to see an increased strawberry supply in November.”

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